In case the title is not explanatory enough, and in case you missed yesterday’s post I shall begin with a brief introduction. To mark the end of probably the best decade there has ever been to be a Doncaster Rovers fan Viva Rovers’ has decided to pick five different teams that offer an effective summary of the past ten years. Yesterday we began this series with what we considered The Best XI, and now today we offer you line-up number two, the Cult Hero XI; a team of players who may not have been the best to don the red and white hoops, but there performances and their character were enough to ensure that they will be remembered fondly. Before we crack on I should also point out that one key criteria in selecting these sides was to not place any player in more than one team. As such, cult heroes Tim Ryan, Paul Barnes and Gregg Blundell have sacrificed their place in view of making yesterday’s Best XI. However, there is one exception to this rule as you will soon see. All clear? Right, on we go…
Goalkeeper – Jan Budtz
In 2005 Rovers revolutionised their approach to goalkeeping. After spending the first half of the decade relying on members of coaching staff or mere children armed with gloves (Elliot Morris anyone?) to act as cover between the sticks Doncaster decided to find an actual back-up goalkeeper, and then thought sod it, lets buy two. And so Jan Budtz arrived in South Yorkshire, one of two Danish ‘keepers brought from Scandinavia to offer cover for Andy Warrington. Jan made over thirty appearances for the Rovers, but his finest moment came in his opening twenty minutes on the Belle Vue turf. With Rovers trailing 1-0 to Manchester City in extra-time of a Carling Cup tie Warrington was stretchered off with a broken leg after an unfortunate coming together with City defender Nedum Onuoha. Enter Jan Budtz. The Dane kept a clean sheet for the remaining fifteen minutes as Rovers also found an equaliser to send the game to a penalty shoot-out. Budtz faced three spot-kicks and saved them all to ensure a memorable cup upset. As well as this undoubted honour, Jan can also lay claim to have one of the best songs afforded him by the Pop Stand; simply “Jan Budtz” repeated over and over again to the tune of ‘Hi Ho’ from Snow White. Simple, but effective.
Right full-back – Theo Streete
In the months and weeks up to Rovers final game at Belle Vue there was much speculation as to who would have the honour of scoring the last goal at the old ground. One player who failef to receive a nomination throughout this period of wild stabbing in the dark was on-loan full-back Theo Streete. Gangly and ungainly, Streete appeared to have been placed at full-back to try and prevent him from getting too involved with the game. He began to show an inclination to get forward in Belle Vue’s penultimate match, with a couple of devil-may-care runs down the flank in an FA Cup replay with Mansfield, but he saved his best to last. Afforded some space on the flank in front of the Pop Stand in Belle Vue’s final match against Nottingham Forest he took an optimistic forty-yard pot-shot at goal which swerved and dipped and somehow found the net. It was a goal which fitted Streete’s style; ambitious, wild, unpredictable, but surprisingly effective.
Centre back – Barry Miller
Altogether then “Halaam, halaam, its Barry Miller, its Barry Miller”. The much loved centre-back burst onto the Rovers scene as a substitute in a 3-1 loss at Boston in 2000, and despite only playing twenty-six minutes won the Supporters’ Man of the Match accolade. A bargain £10,000 was all it took to make him a permanent Rovers player. It remains one of the best pieces of business since the Millennium for a centre back incredibly composed and always in control. Miller can also lay claim to one of the most satisfying twenty-minute spells on a football pitch during an epic 3-2 win at Northwich in 2001. Having scored his first Rovers goal in the 69th minute Miller capped a memorable evening two minutes from time by punching the always irritating Jimmy Quinn. Sadly the referee decided to apply the letter of the law and send Miller off rather than shake him firmly by the hand.
Not only was he a great footballer, so much so that he remains the only Rovers player to be proclaimed a genuine deity by the Popular Stand fanzine, but he was also brilliant with the fans as well. He was nicknamed ‘Covered in Monkeys’ by the infamous Main Stand crowd (owing to him being ‘like a rock’, come on keep up) and whenever he ventured to the other side of the field the Pop Side would offer yells of ‘halaam’ and bow down in prayer. Miller obviously enjoyed this attention but managed to take it on board without ever coming across as arrogant, as highlighted by his appearances at the Retford Branch of the Supporters’ Club’s Annual Dinner Dance, where he would send his wife off to dance while he swapped Champ Manager tips with the younger fans. Sadly injury curtailed his time with Rovers and ultimately his football career, but he has maintained his cult hero status, and now works within the Church.
Centre back – Mark Albrighton
Yes, we know that ‘The Sarge’ made it onto the bench of yesterday’s Best XI, but there was simply no way of omitting him from this line-up. To defend his inclusion, let me offer exhibit A, a picture of Mark Albrighton introducing himself to Joey Barton during a pre-season friendly… and the defence rests.
Left back – Mark Barnard
I’m not going to lie, Tim Ryan was the obvious choice for this position, but there is certainly a case for cult hero to be made for Mark Barnard. The full-back joined Rovers from Darlington at the start of the club’s second season in the Conference and established himself well in the back-line, earning recognition for his performances with a call-up to the England Semi-Pro side. At the start of the 2000-01 season Barnard turned prolific marksman all of a sudden, belaying his position at full-back to score three of Rovers first four goals of the season. But then, in November whilst still third on Rovers goalscoring list and a regular in the side Barnard made the decision to put football second, and moved from full-time with Rovers, to play part-time with Northwich Victoria allowing more time for him to concentrate on his business interests. A brave move for a popular and consistent player and one which deserves acknowledging.
Right Midfield – Jason Price
There is an unwritten rule of Cult XIs that the team chosen must feature at least one player with an afro. For us, Jason Price fills that void emphatically. It takes a special kind of person to come up with their own nickname and see it actually stick, but thats what Price did by coining himself the Afro Goal Machine after his late cameo in the Johnstones’ Paint Trophy Northern Final in 2007. Signed by Dave Penney from Hull Price made an instant impact for Rovers with 3 goals in his first three games, before falling down the pecking order somewhat. New manager Sean O’Driscoll used the Johnstones’ Paint Trophy run to get Price firing again and the forward became an integral part of the side. Price’s most notable performance coming as a half time sub against then league leaders Leyton Orient at the Keepmoat Stadium when he brought much needed energy to the game and capped his performance with a goal set up by a turn which ranks as one of the best pieces of control I’ve ever witnessed. A genuinely likable footballer who was a pleasure to watch.
Centre Midfield – Ricky Ravenhill
No cult hero team is complete without a home town player so step forward Ricky ‘red card’ Ravenhill. Released by Barnsley as a trainee, Ricky went on to show them what they had missed out on as he made over one hundred and fifty appearances for his local team across three divisions. As his nickname would suggest Ricky was something of a combative midfielder who could be relied on to get stuck in when you needed someone to, and also when you didn’t really need anyone to. Despite his red card moniker Ricky was sent off just four times in four seasons with the Rovers. However, his yellow card tally was a little higher, as he picked up 35 bookings whilst with Doncaster, an impressive one every three starting appearances. Don’t let his physicality fool you though as he was a capable footballer too and scored some cracking goals, a stunning volley against Bradford in front of the Town End arguably the pick of the lot.
Centre Midfield – John Doolan
John Doolan joined Rovers towards the end of their last Conference season, planted himself firmly in the centre of midfield and stayed their for just over two seasons until Rovers were established two divisions higher. A confident and impressive player on the ball Doolan linked the side well from the moment he arrived and also brought valuable experience to the Rovers midfield to help nurture the emerging talents of Paul Green and Ricky Ravenhill. And of course he was not afraid to ‘mix it’ as Stephen McPhail discovered six minutes into a fog shrouded game at Oakwell in 2004, indeed Doolan remains Public Enemy Number 1 in Barnsley to this day, successfully staving off the competition offered by Margret Thatcher and salad. The Tykes came to Belle Vue looking for revenge later that season and instead were met by chants of “Doolan’s gonna get yer” and a 4-0 defeat including a goal from the man himself.
Left Midfield – Sean Thornton
When he arrived at Doncaster in 2005 Sean Thornton was an ambitious purchase, he was the club’s record buy and he came with top flight experience from his previous club Sunderland. Sadly though despite forty-nine appearances and nine goals for the Black Cats he was most remembered on Wearside for an ill-advised celebratory rap following their promotion back to the top flight. That sort of thing would be reason enough for cult hero status, but he also added another key facet of unfulfilled talent over the course of two seasons with Rovers. No matter how cringeworthy his ability as an MC though, he will remain etched in the memory of Rovers fans for a long time courtesy of that goal in the 3-0 Carling Cup win over Aston Villa. Thornton picked the ball up on the left and jinked inside a couple of Villa players before hitting a brilliant dipping shot which found the top corner of the Rossington End goal to cue brilliant celebrations across Belle Vue.
Striker – Adebayo Akinfenwa
Lets be honest, Adebayo Akinfenwa does not look like a professional footballer, instead he has the physical make-up of the drummer in Gorillaz. If you’re in any doubt, the guy is big. So sizable was his presence that when he held the ball up with his back to goal, opposition defenders looking for a way round him would often find themselves on St. Ursula’s Road. Akinfenwa arrived at Rovers after unsuccessful spells in Boston, Barry and Latvia, but proved the perfect catalyst to securing the Division Three title with four goals in just four starts and five sub appearances. His cult hero status was emphatically sealed during an interview with BBC Radio Sheffield when he proclaimed himself a Ghetto Striker, though he lessened his ghetto credentials somewhat by moving on to that notable hood; Torquay.
Striker – Leo Fortune-West
Last but never least; hated by some, loved by others, from the L to the F to the W, there is no better cult footballer than Leo Fortune-West. Leo was a big signing for the Rovers when he joined from Cardiff ahead of Doncaster’s first season back in the football league. A lower league stalwart Leo’s style may have been ungainly and awkward, but he had found the net wherever he had been and continued to do so for the Rovers. The thing about Leo was that he must have been an incredibly hard player to mark, when it rarely looked like he knew what he was going to do next, how could the opposition defenders.
But Leo’s physical and unsubtle style belied an intelligent footballing brain, and so Fortune-West’s greatest attribute was knowing how to pave the way for others. Leo may not have hit the net as often as some people liked in that Division Three title season, but his presence was a huge contributing factor in the twenty goals scored by Gregg Blundell. He did score some crackers of his own though, a long range strike against Port Vale, a goal from an impossible angle in a friendly with Manchester City and his ‘control – pivot – thwack’ away at Hull. Leo’s ultimate game though was probably the great 2-1 win at Mansfield which sent Rovers on the way to the title. Throughout the game proved not so much a thorn in Mansfield’s side, but a great big rose-bush tossed in their face, he set one game up and also managed to start a twenty man brawl, before calmly strolling away to the halfway-line to watch everyone else fight it out. A great man, and one who continues to add to his cult hero status by taking up refereeing after leaving Rovers and appearing as a paying supporter at Doncaster’s win over Cardiff earlier this season.
(To seal the deal, a quick story for you… On my 21st birthday I had arranged a Leo Fortune-West theme night to take place after Rovers match with Leyton Orient, where by everyone would turn up wearing a Leo-esque sweatband and then by the end of the night we would all show as much poise and grace as the big man himself. Leo trumped all the planned fun though by delivering three goals, inside the game’s first eighteen minutes. I have the DVD of the game here now and I can still see my sweat-banded hand bouncing around on the Pop Side long after his third goal. That night, in a pub in Lincoln one of the televisions was showing the goals of the game and so twenty people in sweatbands congregated around it and acknowledged each of Leo’s goals with a “Woooooooo… Yeah!” much to the confusion of the rest of the patrons)
So thats our selection, who would make your cult XI?